Balkans cycling holidays

“Clearly, cycling from A to B instead of driving has a low carbon footprint, which we love,” says Tom Wilkinson, from our holiday partner Exodus Travels. “But in the Balkans, the sustainability aspect goes a long way beyond that. On a bike, you’re getting to these remote areas that are near deserted in places, people having left for the cities in search of work, so traditional lifestyles are sadly dying out. When you’ve got small groups of cyclists passing through, it encourages people to stick around and set up small businesses to cater for them. If there is an income from tourism, then it can help these communities to survive.” 

Cycling holidays in the Balkans provide opportunities to explore some of Europe’s least-seen landscapes. They can not only take you along Croatia’s magnificent Dalmatian Coast, but through Sharri or Durmitor national parks, the Dinaric Alps, Montenegro’s vast Tara Canyon, wine regions and fishing villages, and past the Bay of Kotor on the serpentine road that winds its way to Lovcen National Park via some 26 switchbacks.

Because the Balkan countries are so closely packed together, you can easily cross several borders in the space of a few weeks on the bike, covering 60-odd kilometres each day.

These are typically small group holidays, and as such they follow carefully crafted routes that are much more than simply crunching the kilometres. Regular stop-offs throughout might include tasting sessions at local wineries (make sure you spit at least some of it out) or olive oil presses, and guided tours of cities that take you to ancient monasteries or must-see landmarks such as Stari Most bridge.

In Herzegovina, you can leap out of the saddle and into a crash course in honey farming, while in Croatia your group could take a boat trip out to an oyster farm. Choose a coastal route and you’ll want a swimsuit and towel in your pannier every day. Whether you’re enjoying a snifter of the ubiquitous fruit brandy known as rakia or sampling a platter of freshly made cheeses paired with honey, these visits provide a valuable income to the many small farmers and businesses that you invariably pass along the way.

What do Balkans cycling holidays involve?

Small group cycling holidays are accompanied by tour leaders, sometimes from the Balkans region themselves. They’re there to navigate the route, smooth out the border crossings, and generally see to it that all you need to do is make sure you’re pedalling in the right direction.

Group sizes vary but are usually capped at around 12-14 people. That way, you get to know everyone else quickly and can ride in different combinations every day. But you can also still stay in smaller, locally owned hotels and guest houses – those that don’t have the capacity to accommodate larger tour groups.

While these holidays are certainly not aimed exclusively at avid cyclists who shimmy into their spandex shorts every weekend, you should anticipate some climbs and put in a bit of practise before you leave.

“You do need to be relatively comfortable going uphill,” advises Tom. “Our most popular and easiest tour is cycling the Dalmatian Coast down from Split. People often think it’s going to be flat, but there are still a few climbs every day. Not Tour de France stuff, but you need to be prepared. You don’t have to be massively fit, but a few practise rides before departure taking in some hills will stand you in good stead. For those after more challenge, some of our other trips in Slovenia, the Albanian Alps and northern Croatia are a fair bit harder.”
Depending on where you start from, electric bikes may be available to give you a little more oomph on steeper gradients. Otherwise, you’ll be equipped with a hybrid bike similar to a typical city bike and ideal for the terrain. You’ll need to bring your own water bottle and helmet – the latter is mandatory.

Luggage is transported for you between accommodations, as you will usually be staying somewhere else every one or two nights, but you might have panniers or handlebar bags too. These come in handy not just for water, snacks and the odd pot of honey, but also because it helps to have an extra layer of clothing as the weather changes depending on your altitude

You’ll cover around 60km each day – more than enough to build up a hearty appetite in the evenings. And you’ll appreciate that, because one of the great pleasures of cycling in the Balkans is the chance to explore the cuisine. In the cities, you might be left to your own devices, although recommendations on where to eat are never far away. In more rural areas, you will usually join the rest of the group for dinner at a local restaurant – Tom always recommends trying a traditional slow-roasted meat dish called peka.

Tailor made, self guided cycling holidays in the Balkans are also possible, although less common. They include full support that ranges from luggage transfers to comprehensive route notes. If you’re new to the Balkans or cycling holidays, then joining a small group is an ideal taster: sociable, motivational and hassle-free, with all of the tricky details arranged on your behalf.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Balkans or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Best time to go on a Balkans cycling holiday

Our cycling holidays in the Balkans are usually guided small group trips that run on set dates between April and September. Tom Wilkinson has explored the region from the saddle on several occasions and says: “I prefer cycling in the Balkans in May or late September. August is fine as long as you’re at altitude or getting a sea breeze along the coast, and peak season crowds don’t apply so much to cycling in Albania or North Macedonia. They do very much for Croatia and Montenegro, though.”
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: David Marcu] [Intro: Cm2white] [What do Balkans cycling holidays involve?: Yury Kirillov]